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New Yorker Fiction Review: "Madame Lazarus" by Maile Meloy

Issue: June 23, 2014

Story: "Madame Lazarus"

Author: Maile Meloy

My Two Cents: So apparently Maile Meloy is the sister of The Decemberists' frontman, which makes me like her about 0.0237 times less than I did before. Which is to say, I don't really care about that particular piece of information other than for use as party chit-chat. And that is NOT because I don't like The Decemberists. I don't. It's just that it reminds me of the existence of this stratum of Ivy League educated Artistic Uber-Elite which I shan't ever inhabit; a higher and therefore better plane of existence, in which everyone is holding hands at the Great Feast, looking down upon us all with smug dismay.

Okay, okay, so it's not as bad as all that. Sometimes my imagination gets away from me. Besides, I genuinely don't have any wish to inhabit said stratum and, who knows, probably couldn't get in even if I wanted to. Those are not "my people" and never will be. Give me the literature of the People; the literature of the guy who works the midnight shift at the parking garage; the literature of those who botched up their first run at college; those who spent their youths not obsessing about grades and achievements but, IDK, living, fucking up, trying to figure it out, taking the wrong paths. THAT is who I want to hear from (Maybe I need to stop reading the NYer? To be continued...) Anywyay...

That said, this story was pretty good. It's about an old gay couple who own a dog who dies and comes back to life. The older man is German, the younger man (James) is English. The older man is resigned to watching his once burgeoning romance with James fade away little by little. James is still young, attractive, and sexually powerful, while the main character is, well, not any of those things any more. James is often on the road, and therefore his older German lover (the two live in Paris) is left alone with the little doggie, Cordelia (dubbed Lady Lazarus after her near-death experience).

Eventually, Cordelia (**SPOILER ALERT (AS IF)***) has to be put to sleep, and the old German somehow knows that his romance with James is over. Meloy uses the dog in an interesting way here, as sort of a symbol of this couple's "courtesy" relationship. James had bought the dog for the old German to keep him company while he was a away on business trips, a sort of consolation prize for the fact that James was blatantly not going to be available and engaged like he once was. Therefore Cordelia's death carries even more weight than that of the loss of a beloved pet. For after the death of the consolation prize, what comes next?

I like this story because, while we do live in a gay friendly culture, you don't to read much gay literature that explores the relationship between to male lovers. For whatever reason, you just don't. I mean, the author is a heterosexual (I presume) woman, but still...I like when authors choose to tackle a wholly alien voice or form...kind of like an "escape story" set in a wildly foreign land. And, as with many "escape" stories, the fundamental message is that most human problems, once you strip away the cultural window-dressing, are pretty universal. Gay love is as difficult and heart-breaking and scary as straight love, etc. etc. etc.

The narrator must rise every day and continue to live his life even though he knows he has aged well beyond lust and sexuality and that his lover (most-likely) will soon leave him. But isn't that the deepest and most central human problem of all? The fact that we must push-on in life knowing not only that we're going to die, alone, but also NOT knowing a.) what comes after that or b.) why we were deposited here on earth in the first place. Any art that approaches that conundrum with honesty and reverence will find an audience. Ultimately, this story does that and there's a perfectly valid reason Meloy is successful (not just because she went to Harvard and is part of the Artistic Uber-Elite).


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